Army moves to enterprise progressing, but not without challenges

The Army is looking to life beyond BlackBerry, and possibly beyond separate network classifications.

With plans for IT management reform, mobile computing alternatives and increased cybersecurity, the Army is making strides in becoming a more holistic entity, at least where technology is concerned – but the efforts aren’t without hurdles along the way, according to an Army CIO/G-6 official.

“The end-state for us is a joint information enterprise. We will never deploy the Army as a standalone force ever again. We’ll always have our sister services with us; we’ll always have coalition partners. We must be able to connect to them, and we’ve got to train like we fight. You’re seeing more of this with the combined posts and stations,” said Maj. Gen. Steven Smith, director of the Army CIO/G-6 cyber directorate. “This is the environment. This is the end-state ... but we have a lot of work to do to get to that point.”

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Among the most high-profile initiatives has been enterprise e-mail, which continues to move forward despite budgetary and congressional roadblocks. But beyond that, the Army is rolling out plans for reforming management of its networks, security and access controls. The service is also ramping up efforts in mobile computing, Smith said April 27 at an AFCEA Northern Virginia event in Vienna, Va.

“The concentration is on making the Army an enterprise so we can get to the right technology and put the effort into what we really need,” Smith said. “We can no longer afford to have these ‘silos of excellence.’ We’re getting away from the separate networks. We’re building to a joint network and even potentially ... getting rid of the levels of networks, from official use only to secret to top-secret.”

In the nearer term, Smith said his office is working on instituting a public key infrastructure security token for the classified SIPRNet, part of broader plans for all the services to do so under orders from Defense Department CIO Teri Takai.

“We’re going to do it all at once, and we’re going to complete it by next year,” Smith said.

In his comments, Smith also outlined plans for Army mobile computing, including a forthcoming broad area announcement for secure mobile devices.

“Mobile computing is the way of the future for the U.S. Army. It’s being able to give a soldier, civilian or contractor what they need, when they need it – regardless of where they are. It’s going to fundamentally change the way we buy at the desktop level,” he said.

Smith said it will be interesting to see how mobile security takes shape in the coming months and years, and emphasized the importance of securing the data rather than the device.

According to Smith, the Army is working with the Defense Information Systems Agency on a broad area announcement, due this summer, to determine a device that will “get us out of the government device-furnishing business." The Army has trouble keeping up with the secure technical implementation guide, he added. 

While he said that device won’t be an iPhone, the Army may be looking to life beyond BlackBerry. Smith pointed out that Research in Motion, maker of BlackBerry, currently is the only authorized vendor for Army networks.

“That doesn’t lend to competition, and it doesn’t lend to innovation,” he said. What’s most critical to whatever device is chosen is secure access and identity management, he added.